Saturday, February 19, 2011

How are there three year olds within month being taught Bach and Vivaldi? Well, most of them are of Asian descent and were taught the Suzuki method of music training and were instantly called music prodigies. Yes, they played the notes but could not read music and could not play an assortment of other styles of music. That is not brilliance that is someone who merely memorized finger patterns; not a musician.
We can thank John Kendall who recently died at age 93 for making this form of musicianship known here in America and who was a leading evangelist for the method. The Suzuki Association of the Americas estimates that perhaps 100,000 students annually are taught with Suzuki techniques.
This method of music instruction works well with school music teachers. There is usually one music teacher hired for an entire elementary school of hundreds of students and between September and December that one teacher is expected to have students learn and perform within 3 months a Holiday performance. The Suzuki method works well to simply teach finger patterns. Often the student does not even know the names of the notes they are playing but it sounds good.
“It was once thought that you had to have innate talent to play the violin,” said Pam Brasch, executive director of the association. “John used Suzuki’s ideas to change music training in general.” Yes, teachers were throwing out their traditional music method books out for Suzuki books many that were still in Japanese. Today it is also used to teach other stringed instruments including guitar and harp.
Mr. Kendall’s first exposure to the Suzuki method came in the late 1950’s when he saw a documentary film featuring 750 Japanese Suzuki students playing Bach’s Double Concerto for Two Violins. “I was curious but very skeptical. Were these kids really benchwarmers, just pretending to play?” he said. He then traveled to Japan on a grant to meet Shinichi Suzuki, a concert violinist who had developed his method.
The key to the Suzuki method was the insight that children could learn music as they do language-by listening and trying to repeat what they hear. We all know what that does to languages. That is how we learned dialects that garbled the original language and eventually we all have to go back and learn the correct pronunciation and spelling of the language.
My wife is a music teacher and realizes the success of the Suzuki method is instant gratification of the ability to play complicated classical music quickly. Many school programs have gone back to traditional methods because it is more instructional. We will miss Mr. Kendall because he was a pioneer in this century. He produced the first English language versions of the method books here in America.

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